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New formula to fund public education needs to be 'fair for all,' Mehlville school board believes


April 20, 2005 - Any new formula to fund public education in Missouri needs to be "fair for all,'' according to a resolution unanimously adopted last week by the Mehlville Board of Edu-cation.

For a new funding formula to be fair for all, the Mehl-ville Board of Education believes that the Legislature should ensure it contains provisions stipulating that assessment practices are fair and consistent throughout the state and providing a realistic factor that accounts for regional differences in the cost of living.

During the April 13 meeting, Superintendent Tim Ricker and Board of Education members discussed at length Senate Bill 287, sponsored by Sen. Charlie Shields, R-St. Joseph, which is designed to transition the state away from a tax-rate driven education funding formula to a student-needs based education funding formula.

SB 287, which was approved April 14 by the Senate and sent to the Missouri House, would cost Missouri more than $685 million to fund the state's piece of the new formula.

As proposed, the formula would be phased in over five fiscal years, beginning July 1, 2006.

Under the legislation, the new formula would start with a school district's average daily attendance and then calculate additional credits for each student beyond the state average percentage enrolled in special programs within that district. Among the student needs included in the calculation for extra credits are students who qualify for free or reduced lunch programs, students enrolled in special education and students with low English proficiency. Af-ter adding those credits to the average daily attendance of the district, that total is multiplied by the proposed state minimum spending amount per student, which is $6,117.

Under the existing formula, most school districts in St. Louis County, including Lindbergh and Mehlville, have been considered "hold-harmless'' districts and have re-ceived the same amount of state aid from the formula since its inception in 1993. Lindbergh and Mehlville are members of the Coalition to Fund Excellent Schools, which represents about 70 school districts.

A ruling last summer allowed the Coalition to Fund Ex-cellent Schools to intervene in a lawsuit filed by the Committee for Educational Equality. While the Coalition to Fund Excellent Schools supports the pending lawsuit, it disagrees with some of the changes the Committee for Educational Equality is pushing.

Mehlville residents have been at the forefront of efforts to revamp the state's education funding formula, most notably through Families for a Fair Formula, a volunteer committee comprised of district parents concerned about the level of per-pupil funding Mehlville receives from the state.

Mehlville also is a supporter of Fair for All, a coalition that includes Families for a Fair Formula, several local chambers of commerce, the Regional Chamber Growth Association, the Missouri Growth Association and other area school districts. The Fair for All coalition primarily is concerned with the two priorities outlined in the Fair for All resolution adopted by the Mehlville school board.

The Fair for All coalition believes that a certificate of value should be included with every property transfer, something already required in St. Louis County, Jackson County, St. Charles County and the city of St. Louis.

Certificates of value provide assessors with accurate in-formation in updating property values to aid in tax collection for all taxing entities, including school districts.

Included in SB 287 is a provision for a dollar value modifier, which takes into consideration the cost of living in each school district and adjusts a district's total amount by how much education a dollar can buy in various parts of the state.

The Mehlville school board's April 13 meeting at which the Fair for All resolution was adopted was the first regular meeting after two new members were sworn in April 11. Karl Frank Jr. and Ken Leach joined veteran board member Cindy Christopher in taking their oaths of office April 11 after winning election April 5.

Noting that similar resolutions regarding funding for public schools have been approved by the County Council and local chambers of commerce, Ricker said April 13, "I thought it would be in our best interest to ask the board to consider the content of this resolution as it relates to two specific items. And those are the assessment practices being consistent across the state, basically a certificate of value, we talked about that before.

"Likewise, a real estate factor for regional differences in the cost of living or basically a dollar-value modifier ...,'' the superintendent said.

Ricker discussed SB 287, saying he expected the bill to be approved by the Senate and be sent to the House.

"... So we still have time to work on the issues that we think are important as a school district and as parents and as organizations across the state to affect the final do-pass portion of the bill,'' he said.

About the resolution, he said, "This talks about several things. It talks about the fact that we have strong public schools and they are a significant factor in our community. It talks about that we've been well served by local public schools. That the legislators are developing a foundation formula for state aid; financial support is critical to our success. That it is incumbent on the state to provide us a system that's adequate, equitable and constitutionally correct.

"That's a little kicker in there that was talked about before, this idea of constitutionality. The issues are developed around regions' cost of living and methods of assessing the value of property in that there is a cost-of-living component set into this formula, something we wish we would have had in the last writing of the formula for us hold-harmless districts,'' Ricker said. "And then there are substantial inequities in the school funding formula; they have to be addressed so that local taxpayers, school districts and communities understand why the structure is the way that it is ...''

Board President Rita Diekemper said, "Are you asking for that (approval) for tonight? I mean I think the sooner the better ...''

Ricker replied, "Yes, because what I'd like to do is by the first light of tomorrow morning send this out to every representative in the House of Representatives as well as our senators.''

Board Vice President Bill Schornheuser later said, "... I'm going to assume it's still written for a six- to seven-year phase-in.''

Ricker replied, "Six-year phase-in. Obviously, it would be put in place in '05-'06, but you don't get your money and then the way they prorated that it's like 20, 40, 60, 80, 100 percent of the money. So I guess the thing I needed to say is the latest simulation on this bill or at least on (SB) 287 is somewhere around $4.3 million for the district, but all that money's on the come. It's all based on growth in the economy or taking away inefficiencies in government, so ...''

Diekemper interjected, "We're still a ways to go.''

Ricker continued, "We're still a ways to go and even with the $4 million six years from now, that's like for our district sticking your finger in the dike and the water's still rising. So ...''

Diekemper interjected, "Well, still if we would have been getting a cost-of-living increase associated with the $771 (per student) then we would be getting over $8 million a year more right now (from the state).''

Ricker agreed.

Schornheuser noted that with a cost-of-living increase, Mehlville would have received an additional $25 million from the state over the past 13 years.

Board Secretary Mike Heins said, "... Often they use the words state aid. This is not state aid ...''

Diekemper interjected, "This is our money.''

Heins continued, "This is a share of state funding in which we have sent this money down to the state as part of our income taxes and other taxes that we pay and they are not distributing it in an equitable fashion. They're sending it out to what they call aid, when, in fact, it's not aid be-cause we sent them the money in the first place.''

Ricker later said, "... There's one line in there that I'm deeply concerned with and that doesn't have anything to do with the modifier or the certificate of value. It states that if the state doesn't have enough revenue for appropriations to fund the formula, then they don't have to. See, those are the kinds of things that we have to beat on our representatives and say: Oh, no. Your constitutional obligation is, other than to pay your bills, the second one is to educate kids.''

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